Florida’s Voter Suppression Specialists

Ideas and Issues
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New Orleans   We’re in the countdown to the November 3rd election, so while the candidates’ campaign and the voters try to sort out the choices, as the saying goes, “Here comes the judge!”  We should say judges.

In Texas, a federal appeals court ruled that the state could continue blocking mail ballots to anyone under the age of 65.  In another case of out of court-rol, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the mailing of absentee ballots should be paused.  Both of these weekly developments were seen as windfalls for Republicans, but the judicial gift that just keeps on giving concerned Florida.  The Atlanta-based, 11th district federal Appeals Court in a 6-4 decision overturned earlier orders declaring that the Florida legislature’s action to unravel the decisive referendum election restoring voting rights for former felons by forcing them to pay all fines and penalties before being allowed to register was in fact constitutional in their view and not in effect a “poll tax.”

Florida’s politicians have become the gold standard in voter suppression, and the Republican rerouting of the popular will for ex-cons is all part of a pattern.  Dexter Filkins, the award-winning journalist, mostly well-known as perhaps the outstanding war correspondent of his generation, documented their work in devastating fashion in a recent piece in the New Yorker, correctly noting that the enfranchisement of ex-felons in Florida was the greatest expansion of voting rights in the United States since 1971 when 18 year-olds were given the right to vote in the Twenty-sixth Amendment.

Filkins unravels decades of voter suppression efforts in Florida as Republicans have dug in to resist the demographic trends in the state that will eventually marginalize them no matter how much chicanery they try.  In the meantime, though,  it’s a hot mess that is a scandalous travesty of injustice leaving democracy in its wake.

Given the work of the Voter Purge Project, I’ll raise up the role he reports on the sneak purges of eligible voters have played in key contests.  It’s hard to forget the 2000 election contest where George W. Bush and Al Gore and the country were pushed into a waiting room for more than 30 days to determine the winner of the election.  Hanging chads got the big news, but a voter purge initiated incompetently, but effectively, by the infamous Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, may have been a worse culprit.  Harris hired a company called Database Technologies, known as DBT, to try to scour the voter list for felons, blocked from voting at that time.  DBT was given a broad search mandate, allowing them to come up with 60,000 names, that Harris then sent to the 67 counties in the state advising them to purge those names from the voter rolls.  In a lawsuit from many who were stopped from voting in election, it turned out that DBT had used the names of felons from 10 other states on the match among other problems.

What were the consequences?  As Filkins soberly reports, “Officials from D.B.T., forced to reexamine the list, admitted that at least twenty thousand voters had been improperly flagged – roughly forty times the number of votes separating Bush from Gore.”  An expert who worked for the plaintiffs in the suit, “believes the actual number was higher…” saying “The state’s records were a mess, and they were hiding things from us – they were lying…I think they wanted to do it to insure a victory for Bush.”

Voter suppression is a real thing, and the lack of transparency and incompetence involving purges of the voting list in Florida – and elsewhere – may hold elections, and certainly any pretense of democracy, in balance, this November, just as it did in November 2000.